Xavier Musketeers: Winning with Its Talented Supporting Cast

Tyler GroteCorrespondent IIJanuary 1, 2014

Dec 31, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Xavier Musketeers guard Semaj Christon (0) rebounds during the second half against the St. John's Red Storm at the Cintas Center. Xavier defeated St. John's 70-60. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Besides the overall record, what's the biggest difference between this year's Xavier basketball team and the previous one?

This squad is deep, and more than simply being deep, it's got talent stretching from the starting five to the end of the bench.

While the Xavier community has become accustomed to one-man-band efforts in recent years (Semaj Christon, Tu Holloway), we may be witnessing a return to the kind of play that twice sent this school to the Elite Eight.

Xavier started Tuesday's game down 11-2. It didn't record a basket in over seven minutes of play. An electric Cintas Center felt static and sad, and it looked like Xavier had cold feet for its Big East debut. The team missed its first 11 shots.

But when things changed, they changed fast.

Anyone with cable or internet access may know who Semaj Christon is, and rightfully so. He's been showing up on NBA mock drafts for a couple of years now. The savvy sophomore recorded 10 points, eight assists and five rebounds in his Big East debut.

What's notable about this game, however, is how the supporting talent surrounding Christon came through when it needed to. 

Xavier was able to rally the nine-point deficit to a mere two-point deficit by end of the half before opening the second half on a 13-point run.

While Christon's name was all over the Xavier comeback, it was surprisingly Justin Martin, hero of the Crosstown Classic, who dropped nine of his 15 points in the decisive second-half run. The forward also grabbed six rebounds.

Center Matt Stainbrook has been everything the doctor ordered following last year's nasty performance. The big man finished just a missed free throw shy of another double-double, as he also hauled in 10 rebounds and clogged the lanes St. Johns was routinely trying to exploit off the dribble.

His partner in crime, senior Isaiah Philmore, finished just one rebound shy of a double-double, ending the game with nine rebounds and 11 points.

The production from the big men on this team has been astronomicalcompared to last season of course.

More inspiring than the routine solid play of upperclassmen was the flash of brilliance from freshman guard Brandon Randolph. Xavier was having trouble scoring at a time during the second half and St. Johns was rapidly consuming Xavier's lead.

He only recorded 12 minutes, but in one short span, registered five straight Xavier points and helped the team weather a fierce Red Storm rally. Randolph finished 3-for-3 from the field and recorded seven points.

Jalen Reynolds had a dunk that nearly brought the rim down. There's more to come from him later.

With this kind of point distribution, Xavier becomes a much more dangerous, versatile threat. The team already proved it can survive tenacious defense in the absence of Christon after handling UC without its star for nearly the entire first half and much of the second.

Tuesday was more proof of the other guards' growing competency and confidence.

Last year, all hope of a Xavier victory followed Semaj to the sidelines following another cramps flare-up. This year, who's in seems to matter less because there's enough talent and leadership on this team to perform regardless of the situation.

When a guy like James Farrwho has easily become the most notable improvement from last year and is now averaging around eight points and six rebounds a gameis only getting 14 minutes, the abundance of talent becomes crystal-clear.

There's more to this team than just an NBA prospect. It's refreshing to see Chris be able to call on other guys to score when the team needs a boost of energy.

This is not to say that Christon isn't insanely valuable to this team and its tournament chances, but it's the enormous amount of talent surrounding the star that could make Xavier surprise a lot of people in college basketball.

While the school may be new to its conference, it's certainly no stranger to doing that.